Poetry doesn’t need much promotion. It is doing quite well in this country. I gave a reading the other night in Concord, N.H., with two former poet laureates — Donald Hall and Maxine Kumin —and 740 people came. That’s a lot of people!
– Charles Simic, New York Times 02/03/2008
While I have no beef with Charles Simic or his work, I do not know any of his work at all, I am disappointed in this quote. While 700+ is a great audience for any event, his example serves as a poor example of the state of poetry readings I have been to.
I have been to a ton of readings both here in the Bay and in New York and have generally found that average attendance for a poetry reading is pretty low. Yes, if one was putting together a reading that featured three poet laureates I am sure you would get an amazing attendance. But how often does that happen? And is the audience in attendance for poetry or just to bask in the glow of these personalities.
Before I go on, let me cite one exception to this rule– the Friday Night Slam at the Nuyorican Poets Café regularly sells out regardless of who is slamming and/or featuring. But then I am asking are people there for the poetry or for the spectacle of slam?
Back to Simic and the “promotion of poetry.” I believe that while poetry is not in any danger of dying I do believe that any poetry reading is fighting a battle against a variety of other cultural stimuli and, for the most part, poetry loses that battle against theatre/music events/TV/cinema/et al. It loses that battle big time. Especially on the front line of that battle: open mics. Yes, I know open mics are a hit-and-miss forum where you are more likely to hear unpolished, raw, over extrapolated work but I would love to find a successful poet who did not start their writing career with unpolished, raw, over extrapolated work.
In response to the quote above, I say this: Mr. Simic, the poetry in this country needs and deserves as much promotion as any other art. In your role as poet laureate you should not be happy with the status quo and you should explore any and all possible venues to increase the spotlight on all poetry events (even the ones who attract less the 700 people).